Paul Greatrix, George McKay, R. C. Richardson, Uwe Schütte and Peter J. Smith...

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

April 30, 2015

Paul Greatrix, registrar at the University of Nottingham, is reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin (Penguin, 2000). “An early campus novel, this comic yet rather sad tale has a compelling hero in the unlikely form of Professor Timofey Pnin, a Russian exile making his uncertain way as an academic at a US college in the 1950s. Facing a series of bizarre challenges – academic and domestic – he nevertheless emerges with dignity.”

Book review: Disability and Passing: Blurring the Lines of Identity, edited by Jeffrey A. Brune and Daniel J. Wilson

George McKay, professor of media studies, University of East Anglia, is reading Disability and Passing: Blurring the Lines of Identity (Temple University Press, 2013), edited by Jeffrey A. Brune and Daniel J. Wilson. “A fine collection. Stand-out essays include one on menstruation, as cyclical impairment and as topic of silence; a second on ‘passing in plain sight’, with a case study of Franklin D. Roosevelt, US president and polio survivor; and a third on John Howard Griffin, the white author of the 1961 exposé Black Like Me who, before he used to be ‘black’, used to be blind.”

Book review: Arthur & George, by Julian Barnes

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Julian Barnes’ Arthur & George (Vintage, 2006). “An enthralling, tautly constructed fictional reconstruction of the unlikely events that briefly brought together Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji. The Edalji case was notorious and Conan Doyle’s championing of a wrongly accused, young, mixed-race Midlands solicitor is the central focus here. Barnes’ contextualisation is superbly done and covers provincial policing, railway branch lines, the Parsee religion and English spiritualism.”

Book review: So This is Permanence, by Ian Curtis

Uwe Schütte, reader in German, Aston University, is reading Ian Curtis’ So This is Permanence (Faber & Faber, 2014). “The majesty and ethereal quality of Joy Division’s music is patently rooted in Curtis’ talent to find the right words to accompany it. His lyrics, inspired by dystopian fiction as well as the poetry of Rimbaud and T. S. Eliot, provide a fascinating insight into the mind of a gifted, deeply troubled genius. Curtis’ handwritten notebooks are here made available for the first time in a beautifully presented publication.”

Book review: The Comfort of Strangers, by Ian McEwan

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature at Nottingham Trent University, is reading Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers (Vintage, 1997). “In this brutal novella, Colin and Mary’s idyllic city break is devastated by their fateful encounter with Robert, a bar owner, and his wife Caroline. The development of Robert’s sadism is traced back to his childhood and its present consequences for the tourists are ominously anticipated. Descriptions of the unidentified, crumbling city (Venice?) set off the feral cravings of the protagonists: ‘the surrounding buildings, a citadel of peeling, mustard-yellow distemper, of steep roofs and pale red tiles supporting a tottering mess of television aerials’.”

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